How Does Your Commute Affect Your Oil Change Interval?

If you're like most Americans, then the bulk of your driving involves traveling to and from work. With so many miles coming from your commute, the distance to your workplace can significantly impact your vehicle's maintenance schedule. While you shouldn't hesitate to follow manufacturer-recommended oil change intervals, it can pay to know how your commute affects your vehicle's oil life.

Understanding Oil Deterioration

Understanding how oil deteriorates is crucial to understanding why your commute impacts its useful life. Your oil essentially has an indefinite lifespan, but contamination and heat cycling can cause it to lose its lubrication properties as it ages. Although used motor oil can be recycled, the oil in your engine will eventually impact your vehicle's performance and may even cause internal engine damage.

The rate that oil loses its lubricating qualities will vary, however. Over time, this means increased wear and increased heat, both of which can be harmful to your engine. Engine design, oil type, and even moisture content can all impact the speed at which your oil fails. Typical oil change intervals try to ensure that you always replace your oil before it becomes harmful to your engine.

Short Commutes Mean Shorter Oil Change Intervals

If your commute is very short and you rarely take your vehicle for longer drives, then you may need to consider quicker oil change intervals. In this case, sticking to the old standby of 3,000 miles or every year (whichever comes first) might be your best option. Why do short commutes have such a drastic effect on your oil? The answer is moisture content.

When you drive a short distance, your vehicle may never reach its full operating temperature. If your oil stays "cool," then the moisture content may not burn off. Ultimately, excessive moisture can cause your oil to break down more quickly. A telltale sign of this problem is a mayo-like sludge on the underside of your oil cap in cold weather. This gunk is the result of oil and water mixing in your crankcase.

Severe Conditions vs. Highway Miles

Surprisingly, idling can place a considerable amount of strain on your vehicle. If your commute involves heavy traffic or city driving, then the constant idling and acceleration can cause your oil to break down more quickly. If these conditions make up the majority of your driving time, then it may be worthwhile to use your manufacturer-recommended oil change interval for "severe" driving conditions.

If you primarily drive on the highway and you don't routinely operate your car under severe conditions, however, then you can refer to your standard manufacturer-recommended interval. For most modern vehicles, this interval will fall in a range between 7,500 and 15,000 miles. Sticking to these intervals for routine driving will ensure that your engine remains happy and healthy. You can learn more about oil changes by contacting local auto services.